Kritik des unreinen Gedankens

A student once asked Professor Hegel, “Professor Hegel. Why are you so smart?” Hegel responded by claiming that any thought which he thinks; any portrayal of the development of thought; any insight regarding the delicate manner in which concepts slide into their opposites ; these are the result not of an empirical subject denominated “Hegel”; rather, it is the work and labor of Thought itself. Indeed, philologically, Hegel’s choice of vocabulary indicates he takes the work and employment of thinking Thought and its development and nature quite seriously. Unlike Wittgenstein in Über Gewißheit Hegel, as perhaps the greatest of modern philosophers, will not allow even the slightest presupposition to pass unaccounted for in order to eliminate arbitrariness but most importantly to eliminate the ordinary conception of methodological thinking. Standard methodological thinking takes as given a reflective notion of method as “application”, a given domain of objects to which the inquirer applies her or his presupposed method, and an epistemological Zweck  (das Absolut). The presuppositions of standard methodological thinking is anathema to Hegel’s presuppositional account of thought.

Zizek, one of our best readers of Hegel (as much as it pains me to say it), and one of our best pilferers of Hegel, appropriates the aforementioned anecdote (re Hegel’s response to his student’s inquiry) in his remarks concerning the difference between a Stalinist and Communist leader. After a rousing speech delivered to supports and enthusiasts, after receiving thunderous and reassuring applause, the Stalinist leader will stand stoically, soaking in and savoring the excitement and applause for he’s done something magnificient and historic. However, the Communist leader, like our Hegel, claps along with the throngs of devoted enthusiasts in order to indicate and symbolize that he or she has done nothing: It’s not me; it’s the party. Or, perhaps more historically palatable: It’s not me; it’s the Idea. It shouldn’t be ignored that clapping and cheering involve a rhythm and, oftentimes, a melody. Contrary to textbook depictions of Hegel’s method as a tripartite dialectic which presupposes an end (Absolut) and operates in according with this end throughout its development thereto, I believe that Hegel’s method works and labors much more improvisationally, much more akin to Jazz than Kant’s preferred marching music. Furthermore, I believe that Hegel’s improvisational/presuppositionless “method” plays an essential role to Hegel’s work than has been noted hitherto by the secondary literature . Only if we take seriously the idea that Hegel’s philosophical thought entertains and enacts a presuppositionless procedure, assuming nothing like good modern philosophers, can we see the parallel to both Jazz improvisation as well as improvisational comedy. While for most readers of this submission Jazz’s improvisational procedures are relatively well-known and understood it’s less likely that readers are equally as familiar with the ins-n-outs of improvisational comedy.  For example, within the context of presuppositionless thought and NOT in the context (yet) of thought’s development (because I’d have to deal with improvisational comedy’s aversion to negation) a member of an improv troupe is determined as an individual or, more relevant, “funny” only to the extent that she or he moves within the give-and-take of improvisational structure. Often, as is the case with Will Ferrell, people are off-put when they encounter improvisational comedians outside the context of their (the comedians) normal station because the improvisational dynamic isn’t governing the interaction and they don’t appear within the new context as “funny”. My point here is simply the following: An improv troupe functions presuppositionlessly insofar as the comedian must submit her or himself to the development of the structure of the comedic situation. Furthermore, the synthetic interaction between both the general comedic structure (form) and the local comedic structure (the comedians’ sentences or exclaimations) creates a logical space in which the comedian can be funny. Be one can be funny only insofar as she or he is set up to be funny.A properly functioning improvisational troupe functions properly if and only if the persons composing the group properly set up each other qua group and qua person.

There’s a schizophrenic element at work here. Per Hegel, Hegel’s point in the SL is that the activity of philosophy is actively passive. It’s certainly not the case that Hegel subtracts the emprical or logical subject from the SL. Analogously, it’s not the case that an improvisational setting subtracts the individual.  On the contrary, an empirical logical subject has penned the book and many empirical logical persons have found solace, exasperation, and insight in reading the arguments presented therein. To employ a Heideggerian etymological ploy, Hegel’s philosophy is speculative in the etymological sense that speculative philosophy “watches closely” (from the Latin speculari). One is simultaneously a part and a non-part. A participant and an aparticipant.  Once confronted with the thought of pure being as unmediated indeterminacy, there is nothing else to do than simply watch closely what happens when one thinks through this first thought. There’s a religious dimension to Hegel’s conception of the philosopher: the philosopher must actively prepare herself to let go of one’s individual rub in order to let thought develop, as Socrates said thereof, whereever it may lead us. Or, in more christian imagery, to abide or dwell with thought. As I’ve often argued concerning Bill Evans Trio (here Jazz artists reveal themselves as good Hegelians, forming Trios) when he deconstructed the hierarchical presuppositional structure of Jazz –that is, an authority brings a melodic idea to the set from a place external to the set– and opted for a more democratic set-structure, one in which chaos reigned in the form of each artist autonomously developing his own musical thoughts until a melody (or method) emerged from WITHIN the musical notes and their relations themselves. The melody (method) wasn’t imported from an external place; rather, much more in sync with Hegel’s presuppositionless labor, it developed internally according to the whims of music and the music itself. Pure thinking constitutes its own method in the course of thinking itself through. I argue that this internal self-positing of thinking Hegel calls “the absolute method of knowing” precisely because it is nothing but the “immanent soul of the content itself”. Hegel claims further, “It is this self-constructing path alone which enables philosophy to be an objective, demonstrated science”. Only later, ex post, can we gaze behind us and find some kind of necessity in thought’s development; we can peer into developED thought and determine the way thought has paved for itself. Hegel, in the Phenomenology, stresses exactly this point that the absolute is to be grasped not, as his detractors commonly argueas a presupposition of thought but, rather, as the result of thinking. Indeed, the absoulte as the result of thinking is precisely what Hegel means by Absolute Idea: thinking of thinking which thinks itself as such. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then,why the entire chapter on the Absolute Idea consists solely of the articulation of the method of dialectic: Thinking comes to itself, that is, that it grasps itself as self-determining thinking, is nothing  else than the reconstruction of the path of which can be said retrospectively, that thinking has taken it. The Will-Have-Been is essential here. Determinate negation Will-Have-Been central to dialectics am Ende not, as in standard method, at the beginning of the investigation. The dialectical slippage exists but it’s philosophical/conceptually indeterminate insofar as the dialectical negation of X into Y is not yet posited as a principle of thought. The philosopher lacks the conceptual resources with which to determine thought’s movement as A, for example determinate negation. The philosopher functions, in some way, as Thought’s analyst insofar as it allows Thought to articulate its own problems and thereby (the philosopher) becomes a receptor  for those problems rather than framing those problems, or to some degree creating those problems via framing, in terms of one’s  terms of reference. The iversion of the personal problems into the impersonal is necessary here. One needs to pursue the experience of personal alienation to a point where one realizes that one’s self is a vehicle to a necessarily impersonal conceptual domain: pushing the personal appropriation of philosophical problems to the point where the problems themselves appropriate one’s person. To engage in philosophy conceived thus is no easy task. Hegel, humourously, provides his readers with some practical advice: go read some abstract logic texts; practice in your real life abstract thinking. I imagine Hegel had his students in mind when composing these passges given that he composed SL while a gymnasium teacher in Nürnberg. (Attached, see the photo I snapped of the Hegel-Schule. Interestingly, the Schule is located on Neue Hegelstrasse, and now more than ever we need to think Hegel anew. Also of note, Tucherstrasse is just around the corner, named after the local Weissbier brewery, Tucher. Hegel’s wife’s nachname was Tucher. Not sure whether there’s any relation.)

Street leading to Gymnasium

Sadly, once one has managed to abide in the concept, giving up oneself to the concept, losing one’s life in order to gain it: This is only the beginning. A mere first step. One has been born again in a sense in thought to Thought and that wobbly, unbalanced first step awakens an active-passivity. To begin to move toward philosophy one must sharpen one’s understanding of her or his own inabilities at least so that such inability receives articulation in conceptual form.

Hegel’s thought is strange indeed.Komisch: both comedic and strange. The English equivalent being “Funny”. Terry Pinkard’s biography is wonderful for many things but, for my purposes here, his details concerning Hegel’s interest and enjoyment of dance is relevant. One must feel the rhythm of thought in order to walz appropriately to its internal movement. But, Hegel’s thought seems counter-intuitive. Therefore to dance with thought in the pale moonlight one must become attunedto discordant, dissonant, even alien harmonies while refusing to walk away exasperated, holding one’s hands over her or his ears.

Sketches on a Train: Thinking Thinking in The Artist

Michel Hazanavicius’ film The Artist begins with a self-reflexive gesture that calls attention to both its genre as well as its status as a film. That is, its status as a film is pushed upon the viewer by placing the actors behind the screen, and placing the camera behind the audience in order to highlight the fact of one’s viewing of the film. Its genre moves to the foreground as our protagonist appears in a role in which he’s tortured brutally as a means of information extraction. Cleverly, he will “not speak”. In fact, in the face of brutal physical torture, foreshadowing the later developments, he refuses to speak. In addition, later in the film, he refuses in the face of marital threats to speak with his wife about their lackluster relationship. The film constantly calls attention to the fact of construction. Perry realizes her own construction as a pawn of new film medium after recalling the advice and mark granted her by George with he claims, “Find something no one else has”. George also realizes his own construction after encountering his belongings outside their normal environment, being pushed from his habitual engagement with the world in which he’d achieved remarkable financial and social success. The end of the film portrays both Perry and George “dancing in their chains” and the camera pans to reveal yet another meta-shot of the filming of the dancing.

Two important sequences in the film interest me. First, a dream sequence in which George is thrown into a world in which everything “speak” but him. This is an interesting dream-sequence in terms of Descartes skeptical dream experiment. That is, on what grounds can we prove that everything we experience as real and structured according to the memory-narrative according to which we live our lives is not a well-constructed dream. Furthermore, the dream-weaver has constructed a mechanism that triggers an awareness of the dream-weaver. Our meta-relation to the dream-world as a dream-world is part of the dream. That is, we also can’t prove that the reflexive realization of the dream is not itself programmed into the dream itself.  Dream-arguments generally function as a skeptical gesture to call attention to the lack of grounds for our beliefs in an external world. The question then is the following: How does the dream sequence in the Artist initiate a skeptical moment in which the dream’s argument foregrounds the fallibility of George’s real-world beliefs? What does George believe? He believes, prima facie, that talkies are temporary fashions, a mere fad, soon to pass. He represents pure filmmaking at its best, as he says, “I’m an artist”. Here, there’s an interesting moment of ontological skepticism. OS, understood as the claim that our first-order discourse necessarily fails to refer propositionally to its possibility-condition, the possession of an ontology. Ontology, here, refers to the position of a network of presuppositions that ground and make possible truth-apt claims about the external world. Here, Carnap’s distinction between external and internal questions is important. For, there’s an multiplicity of worlds, a multiverse, if it’s the case that one can adopt more than one ontology, again understood as a possession of fundamental, grounding, or world-forming presuppositions, jointly necessary and sufficient for one to make truth-apt assertions about the internal questions that may arise within a first-order discourse. To destroy one’s axiomatic set of presuppositions is to destroy one’s world. Hence, upon such destruction, it is necessary to engage in world-construction…”ways of world-making”. Why is George an artist? Or, why does he believe himself to be an artist? It may help to call attention to Wittgenstein’s claim regarding philosophy that one can only perform philosophy poetically. That is, philosophy as performance art. Philosophy as a performance art calls attention to our world-constructions, or theories of totality, as contingent. How does The Artist call attention to itself as a contingent construction, or always already capable of being otherwise? I’ve already hinted at the performative nature of ontological skepticism when I claimed that one cannot propositionally refer to or know the World. Instead, one must perform the World. We can know our world only through non-knowledge. Second-order knowledge that one can’t successfully refer to or know one’s world without ipso facto generating a new world and thus leading to an infinite grounding regress leads to the knowledge that in this very attempt to refer to and know the World we are performing the essence of human nature. This dance between transcendence and immanence defines the fundamental nature of human beings. Hence, Wittgenstein’s quietism isn’t a retirement from philosophy; on the contrary, his move toward quietism, instead, affirms philosophy’s negative moment of non-knowledge. The intrusion of language designates the moment of naming the absolute, naming the World. What precisely does he say? Let’s address that in the next section.
Second is the important moment late in the film when George decides to speak. Does the move toward language for George initiate an optimism in which he takes on the task of making explicit our merely implicit world-forming axiomatic presuppositions? That is, does he overcome his performative ontology and move into a Spielraum in which, while engaged in a drunken dance, he again attempt so name the absolute? (It’s also interesting to note that, in Germany, films of a certain genre are called Spielfilm.) One can compare George’s optimism to Hegel in the Phänomenologie des Geistes when he writes, “It is not difficult to see that ours is a time of birth and transition to a new era. Spirit has broken with the world it has hitherto inhabited and imagined, and stands prepared to submerge it in the past and in the labor of its own transformation”. The claim that the upon the solipsist’s death we therefore lose the world is true. Doubtless, the individual things comprising the world will continue to evolve and persist without concept-mongering creatures like ourselves. However, the World will not. With the extinction of the human, comes the extinction of the World and fate along with it. Contingency reigns in a non-human world.

The common-sense interpretation of George’s stubbornness in relation to talkies is to invoke some kind of conservatism and resentment regarding the intrusion and shock of the new. However, is it possible to read this differently? Can we look on askew to his behavior? We do have a stock-market crash in which the comforts of capitalism have been erased.

An essential interest of Hegel’s is the emergence of freedom within the modern world. Something about the modern world welcomed or, even, initiated the emergence of autonomous freedom into the world. However, Hegel claims that one can’t have a theory of freedom without a proper metaphysics. It is therefore crucial to grasp the precise nature of Hegelian metaphysics in order that one doesn’t make the interpretive mistake, too often the case, of rendering Hegelian metaphysics as a return to a pre-critical extravagance of metaphysical bacchanalian orgy. Metaphysics, according to Hegel, consists in a “clarification of our consciousness and our understanding of ourselves and of our world” (Houlgate 27). Ontology, then, as Anton Friedrich Koch says in the Preface to his magisterial Versuch über Wahrheit und Zeit ontology is “Tiefphilosophie”, an investigation into the axiomatic presuppositions comprising our theories of the world. Our microscopic truth-apt claims gesture in the space enlightened by the possession of a world. Ontology functions then as an ontology of worlds. The engagement with ontology, or the second-order reflection on our world as a world is the essence of human freedom. The reflexive gesture that examines our first-order gestures and makes explicit the contradictory nature of human behavior: the dance of contingency and fate. That is, our freedom to make explicit the contingent structure of our world must overcome the equally all-too-human drive to impose fate upon the world, that is, to behave as though fate governs the world.
Thus, there’s a clear connection between metaphysics, ontology and freedom. (Here, it would be important to determine the precise nature of Spinoza’s interest in both freedom and metaphysics and to what extent he sees a positive connection between them.) Houlgate makes the following claim, “What is needed therefore is not an outright rejection of metaphysics in the name of “practice”, but the transformation of metaphysics from an enquiry into elusive “entities”, such as an independent soul, into a modern discipline concerned to articulate the essential nature of free, self-determining spirit”…”a reformed metaphysics of freedom”…in order to provide the contemporary world with a clear self-understanding it requires if it’s to believe itself capable of engaging in free actions. Abstract thought, then, is the proper vehicle of human freedom.  The power of abstract thought is rendered thus in Hegel’s Encyclopedia Logic,

“In earlier times people saw no harm in thinking and happily used their own heads. But, because they pushed on with thinking in this way, it turned out that the highest relationships in life were compromised by it. Thinking deprived what was positive of its power. Political constitutions fell victim to thought; religion was attacked by thought; firm religious notions that counted as totally genuine revelations were undermined, and in many minds the old faith was overthrown. In this way thinking asserted its validity in the actual world and exerted the most tremendous influence.”

It’s difficult to articulate the precise degree to which Hegel’s ideas are influence by Kant’s. However, Hegel’s ideas are also profoundly influence by Descartes insofar as Hegel pilfers the idea that, as Houlgate writes, “philosophy may take nothing for granted in its search for truth and that thought is the principle of doubt or criticism that frees us from the authority of habitual but unwarranted belief”. Hence, here we see the important connection, perhaps more implicit that explicit in the work of Descartes, between abstract thought and freedom. This merely implicit connection in rendered more explicit in the practical philosophy of Kant. Houlgate claims correctly, “What Hegel learns from Descartes and Kant is that human thought frees us from arbitrary authority by subjecting everything to the scrutiny of self-determining reason”.

Given this account of metaphysics and ontology, when can we say that thought is free? That is, when is the concept-mongering biped free? One must resist the intuitive pull of negative freedom as its conceived and articulated within utilitarian political thought and “negative freedom” perhaps best expounded by Isaiah Berlin. If freedom does consist in the mere abstraction from one’s inhabitance within a theoretico-socio-political world, in what then does it consist? Is freedom merely the making explicit of and realization of those axiomatic presuppositions comprising our possession of a world? The becoming-conscious of the Lichtung that is the possibility condition for our truth-apt claims? How does such a concept of freedom apply to socio-political freedom? Is theoretical freedom compatible or useful to practical thought? Today’s freedom has little use for thought. On the contrary, it consists merely in the intuitive knee-jerk reaction against intrusion into one’s illusory private space. To Americans, incorrectly regarded as bastions of human freedom in the civilized world, any and all intrusions into a subjectively defined sphere of privatization is regarded as fascism and socialism. However, little thought comprises these conservative gestures. To itch one’s nose upon the immediate realization of intrusion doesn’t constitute a wise criterion of thought. Here, then, is the real Ticklish Subject. The spontaneous but equally as thoughtless swatting of intrusions into privatized space. Here, we see Socrates’ actions as worth of radicality; that is, regarded as a gadfly, he tickled those human-islands of thoughtlessness until they laughed themselves to death. Our Republic has ostracized thought; thought functions today as Plato’s Poets, and the Poets have been excommunicated.
In some sense, then, this transcendental ontology functions analogously to Kant’s metaphysical deduction insofar as one locates traces of our axiomatic presuppositions within the analysis of our truth-apt judgments. Furthermore, it resembles Kant’s transcendental deduction insofar as the possession of a World, or the possession of an axiomatic network of axiomatic presuppositions, is the condition for the possibility of a synthetic world. Hegel’s criticism of Kant occurs precisely here. While Hegel praises Kant’s act of placing the categories within their proper coordinates, that is within thought, he equally criticizes Kant’s refusal to take modernity to its end and allow thought itself to determine its categories. Instead, Kant merely deduces the categories of thought from Aristotle’s subject-predicate judgments. Therefore, the nature of thought itself is veiled by the imposition of an alien criterion, namely forms of judgments. Thought is rendered explicit according to the conditions of language and the forms of judgment.

Dialogue from White Noise

The long walk started at noon. I didn’t know it would turn into a long walk. I thought it would be a miscellaneous meditation, Murray and Jake, half an hour’s campus meander. But it became a major afternoon, a serious looping Socratic walk, with practical consequences.
I met Murray after his car crash seminar and we wandered along the fringes of the campus, past the cedar-shingled condominiums set in the trees in their familiar defensive posture — a cluster of dwellings blending so well with the environment that birds kept flying into the plate-glass windows.
[. . .]
“Why can’t we be intelligent about death?” I said.
“It’s obvious.”
“It is?”
“Ivan Ilyich screamed for three days. That’s about as intelligent as we get. Tolstoy himself struggled to understand. He feared it terribly.”
“It’s almost as though our fear is what brings it on. If we could learn not to be afraid, we could live forever.”
“We talk ourselves into it. Is that what you mean?”
“I don’t know what I mean, I only know I’m just going through the motions of living. I’m technically dead. My body is growing a nebulous mass. They track these things like satellites. All this is a result of a byproduct of insecticide. There’s something artificial about my death. It’s shallow, unfulfilling. I don’t belong to the earth or sky. They ought to carve an aerosol can on my tombstone.”
“Well said.”
What did he mean, well said? I wanted him to argue with me, raise my dying to a higher level, make me feel better.
“Do you think it’s unfair?” he said.
“Of course I do. Or is that a trite answer?”
He seemed to shrug.
[. . .]
“Your status as a doomed man lends your words a certain prestige and authority. I like that. As the time nears, I think you’ll find that people will be eager to hear what you have to say. They will seek you out.”
“Are you saying this is a wonderful opportunity for me to win friends?”
“I’m saying you can’t let down the living by slipping into self-pity and despair. People will depend on you to be brave. What people look for in a dying friend is a stubborn kind of gravel-voiced nobility, a refusal to give in, with moments of indomitable humor. You’re growing in prestige even as we speak. You’re creating a hazy light about your own body. I have to like it.”
We walked down the middle of a steep and winding street. There was no one around. The houses were old and looming, set above narrow stone stairways in partial disrepair.
“Do you believe love is stronger than death?”
“Not in a million years.”
“Good,” he said. “Nothing is stronger than death. Do you believe the only people who fear death are those who are afraid of life?”
“That’s crazy. Completely stupid.”
“Right. We all fear death to some extent. Those who claim otherwise are lying to themselves. Shallow people.”
“People with their nicknames on their license plates.”
“Excellent, Jack. Do you believe life without death is somehow incomplete?”
“How could it be incomplete? Death is what makes it incomplete.”
“Doesn’t our knowledge of death make life more precious?”
“What good is a preciousness based on fear and anxiety? It’s an axious quivering thing.”
“True. The most deeply precious things are those we feel secure about. A wife, a child. Does the specter of death make a child more precious?”
“No. There is no reason to believe life is more precious because it is fleeting. Here is a statement. A person has to be told he is going to die before he can begin to live life to the fullest. True or false?”
“False. Once your death is established, it becomes impossible to live a satisfying life.”
“Would you prefer to know the exact date and time of your death?”
“Absolutely not. It’s bad enough to fear the unknown. Faced with the unknown, we can pretend it itsn’t there. Exact dates would drive many to suicide, if only to beat the system.”
We crossed an old highway bridge, screened in, littered with sad and faded objects. We followed a footpath along a creek, approached the edge of the high school playing field. Women brought small children here to play in the long-jump pits.
“How do I get around it?” I said.
“You could put your faith in technology. It got you here, it can get you out. This is the whole point of technology. It creates an appetite for immortality on the one hand. It threatens universal extinction on the other. Technology is lust removed from nature.”
“It is?”
“It’s what we invented to conceal the terrible secret of our decaying bodies. But it’s also lfie, isn’t it? It prolongs life, it provides new organs for those that wear out. New devices, ne techniques every day. Lasers, masers, ultrasound. Give yourself up to it, Jack. Believe in it. They’ll insert you in a gleaming tube, irradiate your body with the basic stuff of the universe. Light, energy, dreams. God’s own goodness.”
“I don’t think I want to see any doctors for a while, Murray, thanks.”
“In that case you can always get around death by concentrating on the life beyond.”
“How do I do that?”
“It’s obvious. Read up on reincarnation, transmigration, hyperspace, the resurrection of the dead and so on. Some gorgeous systems have evolved from these beliefs. Study them.”
“Do you believe in any of these things?”
“Millions of people have believed for thousands of years. Throw in with them. Belief in a second birth, a second life, is practically universal. This must mean something.”
“But these gorgeous systems are all so different.”
“Pick one you like.”
“But you make it sound like a convenient fantasy, the worst kind of self-delusion.”
Again he seemed to shrug. “Think of the great poetry, the music and dance and ritual that spring forth from our aspiring to a life beyond death. Maybe these things are justification enough for our hopes and dreams, although I wouldn’t say that to a dying man.”
[. . .]
“Why have I had this fear so long, so consistently?”
“It’s obvious. You don’t know how to repress. We’re all aware there’s no escape from death. How do we deal with this crushing knowledge? We repress, we disguise, we bury, we exclude. Some people do it better than others, that’s all.”
“How can I improve?”
“You can’t. Some people just don’t have the unconscious tools to perform the necessary disguising operations.”
“How do we know repression exists if the tools are unconscious and the thing we’re repressing is so cleverly disguised?”
“Freud said so. Speaking of looming figures.”
[. . .]
“Do you think I’m somehow healthier because I don’t know how to repress? Is it possible that constant fear is the natural state of man and that by living close to my fear I am actually doing something heroic, Murray?”
“Do you feel heroic?”
“Then you probably aren’t.”
“But isn’t repression unnatural?”
“Fear is unnatural. Lightning and thunder are unnatural. Pain, death, reality, these are all unnnatural. We can’t bear these things as they are. We know too much. So we resort to repression, compromise and disguise. This is how we survive in the universe. This is the natural language of the species.”
[. . .]
“Why do I feel so good when I’m with Wilder? It’s not like being with the other kids?” I said.
“You sense his total ego, his freedom from limits.”
“In what way is he free from limits?”
“He doesn’t know he’s going to die. He doesn’t know death at all. You cherish this simpleton blessing of his, this exemption from harm. You want to get close to him, touch him, look at him, breathe him in. How lucky he is. A cloud of unknowing, an omnipotent little person. The child is everything, the adult nothing. Think about it. A person’s entire life is the unraveling of this conflict. No wonder we’re bewildered, staggered, shattered.”
“Aren’t you going too far?”
“I’m from New York.”
“We create beautiful and lasting things, build vast civilizations.”
“Gorgeous evasions,” he said. “Great escapes.”

Musical Tears

I’d often find myself moved to tears not, as one might expect, as a result of the lachrymose divinity of the music’s sound, nor its almost certain ability to conjure the fluttering images from my abyssal past.  I’d come to believe that the only person worthy enough to perform such beauty was myself. Only me, I thought. I’m the only person that appreciates the otherworldly brilliance and love found within a musical composition.  Therefore, I could only identify myself in the performance and I cried, as a result, because I felt slighted by Life. Why couldn’t I create something worthy to be performed and worshipped? Was I so undeserving as to receive what I thought was an unjustified omission of compositional genius? What did life want in exchange? The giant thought of me sitting before a collection of eager worshippers awaiting their nutritional illusion and playing divinely, pounding on the magical keys and provoking mass hysteria…rattle your keys! Fall to your knees and cry in a fist fucking rage! Stare blankly! Walk away in disgust! But, by all means, react! Let me see you poor. Can I see you drenched in tears fighting uncontrollably the demons that so fiendishly possess you? Can I conquer your illusions? And, what would I offer? More illusions? I don’t know, really. But, I’d give you passion. I’d give you tears. I’d give you sweat and movement. And, there’s nothing illusory about these. But, they wouldn’t accept such a gift. How could they? It was too real. Too wrenching. It played like a horror scene, a scene where you’ve realized minutes later that, in fact, your jaw has dropped…and you’re surprised by the reality of this. Strange, isn’t it? The authenticity you acknowledge upon realizing you didn’t decide to do something. This often conflicted with my thinking. I’d often assumed that the most authentic act had to be the one in which I imposed my will unto the fabric of our world, not, God forbid, one so overtaken by the winds of life as to sputter along mindlessly. No, not any more. I’d found the most authentic act not the forced dropping or the conscious, individual reaction to some event. But, the retro-gaze. The recognition that my jaw had dropped. I’d often felt embarrassed that such an authentic act had escaped me. Anatomical sleight of hand. Is it more beautiful if we don’t recognize something? Is this misanthropic?, I wondered. Is it? I was asked shortly thereafter with the most genuine intent, “Do you cry?” Tristan. What would make you cry?” Who knew that nearly every moment both of my waking and sleeping life was spent on the verge of tears? Did anyone know this? Is it noticeable? Should it be? Is crying akin to writing? For we never write for ourselves? But, do we cry for ourselves? Is crying communal? It must be, right? For the only mammal capable of moistening its eyes is the human.
I tried to answer in a way that didn’t puff the pity cigar, but I don’t think I succeeded. In fact, I choked. It was too strong, as was the urge. So, something reasonable came to mind; something that, to this point, I’d honestly never thought. “I only cry in the presence of people”, I said. “There’s something pathetic about humanity. I feel so terribly about their misery, discomfort, and vertigo. And, it’s disheartening to know with such certitude that every illusion they adhere to, even the dirty penny they find on the ground now shining brightly with meaning, will only worsen our condition.” I told her bluntly: “I cry at our lack. I’d think of Hopper’s paintings. While they’re most certainly illustrations, is there something missing? And, if so, how do we respond? How do we respond to lack? Can we only fill it in? Is this what my tears do? Do I seek to create more oceans? Is that what we need? Does the world need better swimmers?” Solitude is something for which I developed a preference; but, even in this bliss, I was prone to tears. Still verging.

Love of a Child

I recall my parents angrily informing me, as a child, that I couldn’t possibly love. “What do you know of love”, they would ask. “You’re just a child.”
What does a child know about love? Why does an adult know about love? Furthermore, what does an adult know about love? I often feel that only a child can love. An adult seems both psychologically and physiologically incapable of love. Before the child learns the ease of lies; before she’s thrown into a social sphere wherein the unconscious dominates; before she glimpses the utter unreliability of even her closest companions…just before this introduction, the child has the opportunity to love. It emerges from such a presumably innocent source. We’ve no reason, it would seem, to love that little boy over there…

Some scattered thoughts on film

I’d like to post quickly some thoughts regarding our relationship to the nature of film.  The content of these thought  calls attention to film’s parallel to a skeptical ontology that I’ve been developing for the past three or four months. To ask What is film? is to ask a metaphysical question the answer to which implicitly assumes an ontologische Weltstheorie. To prefer, say, Michael Haneke’s Siebente Kontinent to James Cameron’s Titanic is to engage implicitly in an ontological act which includes something, namely MH’s film, within a realm of “real film” and excludes Titanic as, to some degree, non-existent. (Suppose, however, one argued that Titanic presents an argument for the death of god (Cal’s “God himself could not sink this ship”) and the metaphorical depiction revolutionary upheaval via Freud’s” iceberg” metaphor which ultimately crushes the latest installment of secular humanism, a humanly instituted, hierarchical society. Furthermore, the return of the repressed emerges in the end, contrary to Zizek’s poor reading of the film’s end, when Jack gives his life for Rose, representing the christological metaphor, the true “heart of the ocean”? Does one’s theory allow the film to evolve into something the academic community takes seriously?) Here, any proposition of the form, Film is X, merely interjects a preferred film theory and a methodological attempt to make sense of or short-circuit our common-sense renderings of film for some theoretical or pragmatic end. One could ask, instead, an interesting Hegelian question regarding film: suppose we proceed presuppositionlessly and let film reveal its nature. As Hegel sought to avoid presupposing that thought IS such and so (say judgment or language, as in Kant), suppose we instead employ a skeptical suspension, an epoche, in order to let film reveal itself to us, bare its inner essence. To presume that film is capable of thought, then to posit a priori a philosophical definition of thought, is to define film in terms of philosophy. Instead, can we investigate film’s essence sans philosophy? An anti-philosophical account of film’s philosophy? (Or Badiou’s inclusion of film into art…the latter of which is one of the four conditions of philosophy. Thus, philosophy serves film contrary to those who seek to make film think philosophically) This is where I find a surprising overlap between Hegel and Heidegger. Heidegger’s later essays on language seek to enact a skeptical Gelassenheit in which we refrain from actively imposing a nature upon thought in effort to let thought/language/film be. This also picks up some themes from Cavell’s World Viewed insofar as he seeks to determine the nature of film via our common, everyday descriptions of film. This, too, is why Cavell is ultimately a Heideggerian in terms of methodology…just minus the annoying forays into fictitious etymologies.
To be actively passive is the task of the philosopher. To let film reveal itself…bare itself sans our theories. In this sense, film would be pornographic, striping its imposed presuppositional dress to expose its true inner nature. To utilize a skeptical method concerning the nature of film also highlights a comment made by veteran screenwriter William Golding when he claimed, regarding the success-conditions for a particular film, “Nobody knows anything”. Golding’s box-office skepticism can be transfered into an epistemological register in the following way: Nobody knows what film is. Or, perhaps more precisely (and generally), Nobody knows everything. Instead of offering a boring postmodern relativism, this instead offers the positive thesis that film always exceeds a ontic monism the purpose of which is the monistic reduction of film to a particular discourse. “Real” film isn’t reducible to one’s preferred-theorist’s set of philosophical films simply because these films explore and illustrate the same themes in which the theorist maintains a contingent interest. Perhaps one can apply Putnam’s excellent comment in Ethics without Ontology regarding the existential quantifier: “…the expressions “there are”, “there exist”, and “there exists a” do not have a single absolutely precise use but a whole family of uses.” In this sense the absolute of film, film’s truth, is its multiplicity and elusiveness with regard to our monistic-mongerings. The true, then, is the whole.

To give an Hegelian gloss, one could say that film’s essence involves its coming-to-be something or other. That is, its essence, its Sein, is Schein. Miller misleadingly translates this as “being is illusory being”…instead, I would argue for the following translation: “Being is manifestation”. To become manifest is to appear as such and so and, therefore, to be taken as something or other and, ipso facto, not as that or the other. To say that film is (really just) a cognitivist medium which represents reality is to say implicitly that film is “really not” a metaphysical “time image” or a socio-economic ideological symptom of the culture. Most theories of film presuppose a filmic thing-in-itself about which we formulate theories to discover its nature and given (privledged) example which supposedly function as examples. We should instead understand film in an Hegelian register: film becomes manifest. It becomes something or other…it is manifest as x rather than y or y rather than x. Its Sein is its Schein. In addition, a materialist view of film nicely illustrates the inability of this theory to account for itself…that is, part of film is the theory of what film is. To say that film is really just a projection of desire fails to include itself into the nature of film. We could say then that film doesn’t reflect our philosophy; rather it refracts it. Film is an example of thought insofar as it prompts thought…in its absence, its central void, its prompts theories…it prompts us to discover/determine its nature.

Occupy Wall Street

I’ve been sifting through comment threads on various media outlets and was struck by the following post, which was in response to a fellow commenter. Apologies to the person who posted the following but I couldn’t ask permission.

“I agree with Tyler about the student debt nonsense. As a 23 year old who has graduated college in May of 2011 with an engineering degree, it’s not that I felt “entitled” to some level of material wealth and now I’m pissed off. I was supposed to leave for the Peace Corps in September of 2011 but was made to hold off until June of 2012 because of the budget cuts to that department. I recognize our unsustainable lifestyles. I criticized Nick Kristof’s article on this movement for the same reasons: unrestrained capitalistic societies dependent on economic growth simply cannot continue indefinitely, especially with emerging economies taking their share.

What I am pissed about, as Tyler said, is the amount of debt that I’m stuck with, with no way of paying it off — despite the fact that I got an “engineering degree” from a top school (my program is ranked 10th in the nation). It was a state school, too, so it’s not like I went to an expensive private university. I put engineering degree in quotes because everyone always says, “Well what did you expect getting that POS liberal arts degree?” If the job market wasn’t this bad, I would be able to pay off this debt easily. It’s essentially the same reasons homeowners who were evicted are pissed off. They entered a contract under agreed circumstances, and now the other side isn’t living up to its end of the bargain. I got this degree because I always wanted to be an astronaut. During college, the president’s campaign made me change my mind and I instead wanted to go into public service, so I applied to the Peace Corps. And now I can’t even fucking do that, and I’m stuck with $50,000 in debt substitute teaching when I can while looking for permanent work. It’s bullshit, Freddie, and it’s not because “I want mine!” You don’t call yourself a Marxist; I don’t know exactly how I want society to eventually operate, but it is very much inspired by Marxist thought. I don’t know that I’m a Marxist either, but I do know that something has to change, and these grievances aren’t necessarily “I want mine, dammit.”

Bestimmung, Hegel and Horizont

In order to make determinations about the world, determinations which can be either true or false, one must make certain presuppositions. Some kind of enabling feature is required, a horizon, in virtue of which the space of reasons appears as that about which one can make determinations.

To reveal a particular discourse’s presuppositions, let’s say one’s own discourse, in order to determine whether or not these presuppositions are true or false generates thereby a new discourse grounded on its own presuppositions. The attempt to transcend the finitude of one’s discourse leads, paradoxically, to an infinite regress. The infinite regress proves one’s finitude. This insight seeks to articulate the constitutive instability upon which our stable claims about the world rest. Once we seek to stabilize unstable presuppositions we generate new instabilities which thus occasion another round of stabilization and so on ad infinitum.

To organize or determine a situation as such and so requires the introduction of limitation into a situation qua situation. That is, a condition for the possibility of a situation is limitation insofar as in order for a situation to count as a situation it must be finite. Human subjectivity must impose a limitation upon an otherwise presumably infinitude of multiplicities if it is to have anything at all like what we call experience. However, human subjects can’t be held responsible for infinite (the Absolute, Unconditioned, etc) , organizational limitations given that subjects find themselves always already thrown into a “mythology” in virtue of which the objects of determination can, in fact, be objects of determination.

Excerpt from a Review of Ascombe’s Intention

I’ve been nosing through Anscombe’s work on intentionality; more specifically, I’m reading her work  as it relates to some of my developing ideas regarding a reconception of Hegel’s much-misunderstood concepts “absolute”, “the idea” and his important distinction between general and formal logic. Anscombe’s work, Intention, hints at something important which I’m seeking to develop for an admission paper and, while reading a short review of the text, found this hilarious excerpt which I’d like to share.

I was a student of Anscombe’s when she was a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, along with her spouse Peter Geach, circa 1980. I took a class on Wittgenstein from Anscombe and a class on Frege from Geach. Anscombe was a wonderfully friendly raconteur with dry wit and lofty memories of Wittgenstein, who apparently “blessed” her. For the class we used her book Intention, a great read and even better when read aloud by her. Geach’s class was a frightening exercise in intimidation, as few of us were brave enough to even be in the room with him, much less have him lecture to us on Frege. I remember being the sole person in the class, and saying nothing for 12 weeks. Meanwhile Geach lectured at the board, completely ignoring me. From what I understand when they headed back to England they boarded the wrong plane and wound up in Mexico City. I did spend some time discussing McTaggart with Geach, and almost went abroad to write my dissertation with him on said, but was warned that he probably wouldn’t remember me when I showed up.

Herder Quotes

A few minutes ago a good friend and I discussed some aspects of Mill’s relationship to developments within German liberalism. I made the claim that, despite the disclaimers proffered by anglo-american political thought, Mill and other British and American liberals display an incredible reliance on the work of a number of German liberals, most specifically von Humboldt and Herder. After a number of comments tossed back and forth, I glanced quickly at a number of quotes on a PDF copy of Herder’s Letters for the Advancement of Humanity, a text to which I’ve not returned since Dan Breazeale’s German Philosophy course. Here’s the two quotes which came to mind. After some searching I found them:

“Should not the voice of each citizen, even assuming that it appeared in print, be considered a freedom of the fatherland? Especially valuable for the man of understanding are the hints and looks of those who see further. They inspire to activity when everyone is asleep; they sigh perhaps when everyone is dancing. But they do not only sigh; they show higher results in simpler equations by means of a certain art. Do you want to make them be silent because you calculate merely according to the common arithmetic? they go silent easily and continue to calculate; but the fatherland counted on these quiet calculators. A single step of progress that ehy successfully indicated is worth more than ten thousand ceremonies and eulogies”.

“Free investigation of the truth from all sides is the sole antidote against delusion and error of whatever sort they may be…The river current of human cognition always purifies itself through oppositions, through strong contrasts. here it breaks off, there it starts; and in the end a long and much purified delusion is regarded by human being as truth”.

“Let the deluded person defend his delusion, the person who thinks differently his thought; that is their business. Even if both of them fail to be corrected, for the unbiased person there certainly arises out of every criticized error a new reason, a new view of the truth”.

Also, in On the Ability to Speak and to Hear there’s this gem:

“We see everywhere that men in whom there was a great drive to become acquainted with the truth from all sides sought even on remote sides intercourse with people who dared to speak freely.”

I’d like to thank my good friend Brad Johnson for inspiring the Herder search.